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Heather Hansen, director of youth and family ministry at MacArthur Park Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas, was one of the first students to participate in Luther's distance learning program. Hansen says that "balancing [school and work] has been a challenge, but it is better than moving," which was a large component in her decision to pursue a degree from Luther. "It's been a blessing to stay in my setting; it's been easier to incorporate the new things I learn." In particular, Hansen cites the on-campus courses as productive. "They're all-day classes with a lot of material. You do the reading beforehand, and the homework afterwards, but they're really intense because there is a lot of thinking."
Hansen graduated with a B.S. in biomedical engineering from Texas A&M. Her work in the church began when she realized "I enjoyed working with people in relational jobs--that's where my strengths are." She began working in youth ministry part-time, and found her calling. "A child I was working with asked how long I was going to be at the church, and that was an eye-opening question." Hansen has worked full-time at her parish for three years.
Her decision to attend Luther Seminary arose from her realization that she "needed a stronger background to do what I wanted to do. I grew up Lutheran, but I wasn't very familiar with the Bible. I felt good as an activities director, but I didn't feel as good at ministry." Hansen feels her experiences at Luther have already helped her in her ministry in San Antonio. "The benefits have definitely been worth it. Every class I've taken I've felt has been very practical. It's been a long process, but I've already grown and changed." In particular, Hansen notes her increasing skills at writing curriculum and having conversations about faith with the church's youth. "My philosophy has changed; I want to reach the whole family, to teach faith at home and not just create another group for kids to participate in."
After graduating this December '04, Hansen plans to remain with her current parish and continue her work. "Longterm goals have come from my studies. I want to be better about outreach and have the church grow out towards the neighborhood." In addition, Hansen plans to become more involved in her synod, including attending the tri-synodical convention. "This education has been a life-changing experience. It's been challenging; I'm growing professionally and in my own faith."
Jason Miller just finished his first year in the distributive learning program. Prior to his studies at Luther, Miller felt "at a loss to find a program that would enable me to study but stay in my ministry at home." Miller is currently the director of youth and family ministries at his parish at St. Armands Key Lutheran Church in Sarasota, Fla.
His experience in the program has been a positive one. "The fact that some of the classes are online forces you to contribute, forces you to learn. It is more rewarding." Miller has participated in on-campus classes both during the January term, and during a one-week intensive course in June. "The intensives allow you to match the faces with the names you're studying with. You also get to work face to face with the instructors." Coming to the campus "allows me to identify as a Luther student." Attending classes on campus helps build a "sense of community as both a Luther student and a Luther graduate," he said.
Miller's reasons for coming to Lutherare twofold. First, the theology degree takes care of the requirements needed to go on the roster as an associate in ministry in the ELCA. The second is to aid his job of nurturing young people in their relationship with God. "I came back to the church rather late in life, and I felt I needed a strong background in Lutheran theology." His aspirations during his time at Luther include learning "about God and how God's word fits together with my life, and how to share God's word with others."
Miller describes his ministry as "a world of extremes." He sees his job as both extremely rewarding and extremely challenging: "It's a challenge, but that is what ministry is all about. Through confirmation and Bible study you can see kids go further along in their walk with Jesus, but it is also challenging because it is like fighting an uphill battle with a culture that is not in tune with the Bible."
Miller's plans for after graduation are undetermined. He hopes to finalize his name on the ELCA roster. "I'll continue to use my tools and gifts. I'll open myself up to go where God needs me. I've learned to go with the flow."
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